One in Five US adults are Interested in E-sports

The growth in popularity of video games has spawned a market that watches “Let’s Play” (LP) videos. According to the latest research from Leger, nearly three in five U.S. adults with children (61%) have had at least one person in their household watch a clip involving a video game being played by another person (such as Minecraft, Black Ops, Call of Duty, FIFA 2016, etc.).

Digital video sites, such as YouTube, Flickr, Daily Motion, Vimeo, etc., are now the ‘go-to’ for watching viral videos (Chewbacca mask, anyone?), sports highlights, comedy skits, watching/listening to music or concert clips, as well as instructional ‘how to’ videos (which can range from how to replace a sink faucet to how to apply the perfect eyeshadow…and how to get better at video games).

A 2015 report from the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) estimated approximately 155 million Americans currently play video games. The report also showed gamers vary in age, with more than one-quarter of the gaming community being 50 years of age or older. At an overall mean age of 35 years old, the average age of a gamer is near the border where older millennials and younger Gen-Xers meet.

Viewership of LP videos is highest among 18-29 year olds (66%), and declines with age. What may be surprising, however, is that while a significantly higher proportion of men watch LP videos (43%), more than one-third of women (35%) have also watched them.

“The age for viewership of these videos plays right into the family dynamic portrayed in the 2015 ESA report,” said Lance Henik, Senior Account Manager at Leger. “The ESA report showed parents who play video games are realizing benefits by doing so. Parents consider gaming fun for the entire family, and allows parents the opportunity to interact with their children while monitoring their game play. If there is a video on YouTube showing how to get to that next level in a game which in turn makes for an even more favorable experience from that game, why wouldn’t a parent and/or their child want to see it?”

Some of the LP videos show tips and tricks for games such as Minecraft, while others show how to unlock game modifications (MODs), or how to perform stunts, and cheats. Popularity continues to grow: the Gaming channel on YouTube has nearly 78 million subscribers; and the twitch website boasts an online global community of more than 100 million members (up from 55 million just a year ago) who gather to watch and discuss video games, with more than 1.5 million website broadcasters.

As the popularity of LP videos continues to grow at an accelerated pace, so has the emergence of competitive or professional gaming, or “e-sports” events. In fact, an article in ESPN in May 2015 stated that the twitch website is the most important contributor to the growth and popularity of e-sports.

According to the Leger research, the e-sports viewer profile in the US follows a similar trend as that for the profile of a LP video watcher (viewership is higher among males, younger generations, and those with children in the household). However, overall viewership of e-sports events (such as The International, the League of Legends World Championship, and the World Championship Series) drops down to about one in five (22%) adults.

Overall, just over one-quarter (27%) of US adults cite interest (extremely/very/somewhat likely) in watching an e-sport tournament during the next 6 months. However, among those households with someone who has already watched a LP video, this level of interest nearly doubles to 55%. More importantly, among those who have already watched an e-sport, four in five (81%) remain open to watching a competitive or professional gaming tournament during the next 6 months.

According to an article published by Sports Illustrated, the revenue generated by e-sports is expected to climb from $463 million in 2016 to over $1 billion by 2019. Regarding viewership, an estimated 36 million viewers watched the 2015 League of Legends World Championship Final that took place in Berlin. This dwarfs the 17.2 million who watched Game 5 of the 2015 World Series as well as the estimated 22.5 million viewers who watched an NFL game on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in 2015 – its highest rated season ever.

“The Leger data, combined with the viewership data, supports that the gaming community continues to be an entrenched one,” said Lance Henik. “Once you connect the dots between family gaming to Let’s Play watchers to e-sports watchers, one can see e-sports as not just ‘a thing’ but it could be the next Big Thing.”

BBC, ESPN, and Yahoo have already started broadcasting e-sports and its related tournaments. Furthermore, with a higher percentage of LP and e-sport viewers being younger, this certainly creates a challenge for those having difficulty in reaching these demographic groups. The latest research from Leger shows a vast majority of “Let’s Play” and e-sport viewers are also binge watchers (71% and 84%; respectively). This presents unique opportunity for companies to target products and services to this already-hard-to-reach group from a high growth industry that warrants attention for years to come.

The survey was conducted online with 1,003 respondents, 18 years of age or older, among the U.S. population from May 24th through May 29th, 2016, and was balanced/weighted to statistically represent the country by age, gender, ethnicity, and region. Based on this sample size, the results carry a margin of error of approximately ± 3.1% at the 95% confidence level.